Inhumanity, Bisexuality, and American Horror Story: Hotel

by thethreepennyguignol

So, I wrote about the season premiere of American Horror Story: Hotel a couple of weeks ago. And I stand by everything I said in that review– it’s tasteless, pointless, and plain horrible. That said, I couldn’t help but enjoy the last couple of weeks- after a wobbly third and fourth season (come on, fight me), it seems that they’re finally re-stabilising their balance in how to tell a coherent, season-long story. Also, Evan Peters plays a Vincent Price-esque serial killer and Angela Basset is a B-movie star from the seventies. It’s a hoot, and while I’m still sort of braced at the start of every episode for something that will undermine the good work they’ve done so far, I’ll take what I can get. Oh, spoilers, by the way.

But oh, when did a Ryan Murphy show ever get off that easily in this blog? One of the things that I did notice about this season, and something that crops up across all kinds of TV all the freakin’ time, is the problematic way they frame bisexuality and especially non-hereto sexual activity. So, let’s take a look at all the plots so far that have involved bisexuality in some form or another:

  1. In the first episode, the Countess and Donovan invite another couple to their bed, where they then brutally murder them and drink their blood.
  2. The Countess and Ramona Royale are shown to be in a relationship, one that ends with the Countess shooting Ramona’s new (male, for what it’s worth) lover dead. It’s also interesting to note here that, despite the fact that the Countess and Ramona were together for years, Ramona describes her relationship with her new man (who’s only shown in two scenes, one of which he is dead for much of) as much more significant and passionate.
  3. Tristan (in a relationship with a woman at the time) seduces Will Drake with the express purpose of murdering him.
  4. Tristan picks up a gay guy on Tinder, and apparently seems to enjoy making out with him, then murders him.

I think it would be missing a big ol’ point in AHS to ignore the fact that sex is bad for everyone on this show. I think there’s maybe one (?) fully consummated, consensual bit of love-making in the series five-year run and that ends with her being abducted by aliens (man, season two was crazy). And the straight sex (nor indeed the straight characters) in this season hasn’t exactly been a glowing bastion against which I will measure all my sexual encounters-it’s been unfulfilling, creepy, or just plain depressing. But when the first three episodes of your show feature four characters whose non-mono-sexuality connects directly to their inhuman and murderous natures, there’s a bit of a problem there.

And we’re what, four episodes in? Maybe I wouldn’t have my ears quite so pricked for this particular trope, but it seems like it’s been everywhere in the last few years. The tacit connection drawn between being interested in more than one gender and being in some way inhuman or, at the very least, deeply unpleasant, appears in a whole bunch of shows- off the top of my head, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (where the vampires are almost all bisexual, but the lead cast members CAN’T EVEN CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY OF IT), True Blood (same again), the murderous and immortal Dorian Grey in Penny Dreadful, Lee Garner in Mad Men, Crowley in Supernatural, Frank Underwood in House of Cards, June Stahl in Sons of Anarchy, the female HG Wells in Warehouse 13….oh, and that’s not forgetting Ryan Murphy’s own inimitable addition to the genre, were the only long-running bisexual characters in his show Nip/Tuck were incestuous siblings, one of whom was the murderer/rapist Carver.

I’m glad for bisexual representation on TV (doubly so when they actually call it bisexuality, but that’s another story), but there comes a point when show after show after show after show depicts bisexuality as something that goes hand-in-hand with a depraved, often downright evil nature, when I feel like I have a right to object. Christ, the vampires = bisexual trope is so pervasive that I sometimes wonder if I’m actually a bloodsucking minion of the undead (on a side note, while I can appreciate the metaphor for gay rights in the vampires in True Blood, when you think about it even a little bit it’s hilariously badly conceived and offensive). I’m not demanding that everyone who shows bisexual proclivities HAS TO be a bastion of all that’s good and pure in the world, just that they’re not always vampires (or otherwise evil).

Sure, any person who identifies with any sexuality can be evil or good or anywhere in between, but when the depictions of bisexual people so often seem to equate an interest in both genders with a callous, cold, or otherwise inhumane nature, it gets a bit…on the nose. We get it, you think we’re all off having drunken, dimly-lit sex orgies that you’re not invited to and you’re jealous- but don’t take it out on our TV representations.